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01.2008

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Sandy Block, MW

It's ironic that Chablis, a geographic place name adopted to adorn jugs of standardized branded blends for the last several decades in the US, is actually among the most distinctive and inimitable wines produced anywhere. The signature aroma and flavor of its wines are even "more unique" than those of most other French AOCs. That is so both because this small commune attached legally to Greater Burgundy experiences forbiddingly cold weather during the growing season, and the fact that it is covered with soils that are predominantly chalky clays. These conditions combine to impart mineral essences to authentic Chablis that are impossible to duplicate elsewhere. Quintessential with simply prepared white fish, the wine is a staple of seafood restaurant lists and is especially prized as an accompaniment to raw shellfish.

At least that is the case with what we'll call "classic" Chablis. As the cult of ripeness, or ultra-ripeness, sweeps the international wine palate, it's not uncommon to taste Chablis now that is moderate in acidity and fuller in body. This is, in part, attributable to the uncommonly warm growing seasons that Europe has experienced generally over the last fifteen years, in part to later harvesting, in part to higher yields, and finally to winemaking techniques that emphasize extraction over terroir. Wine is fashion and today producers have more power to sculpt their product in conformity to the market's stylistic demands than ever before. The problem for me is that there are innumerable regions churning out reasonable tasting Chardonnay. There is, however, only one Chablis. It's disappointing, therefore, when I taste a wine that originates in this area and it's virtually indistinguishable from others that come from warmer regions with less markedly calcareous soils. In my opinion, Chablis should be special. At the very least, there is no reason Chablis should ever taste flat.



These wines all fit the criteria I've laid out to one degree or another. My blind tasting panel chose them over others that were equally well made but did not have the characteristic "cut" we were looking for. I'm not a blanket opponent of wood in the production of Chablis, especially at the higher levels (Premier or Grand Cru), but the key is that the oak must be in service to the terroir rather than a dominating presence. It's difficult to use barrels, particularly new ones, at the village level and produce a wine that is clean and clear and full of liveliness. Especially when it is obvious, wood flavors tend to overwhelm the delicate charm of Chablis. So whereas several of the following blind tasting winners were either fermented or aged in wood vessels, none of them show a marked oak influence.
As usual, these are presented in ascending order of preference.


LE CHABLISIENNE
PETITE CHABLIS 2OO5

Which old college socialist wouldn't root for a "co-op" wine to win a blind tasting? In truth, despite the real allure of estate-bottling, there is nothing wrong with cooperative agriculture. To snobs and romantics who insist that only estate bottled wines are worthwhile, we offer the example of Alsace and Chablis. Some of the most delightful, reasonably priced examples have come from these collaborations among growers. Le Chablisienne is renowned for making one of the great value wines of France. This example was low key almost to a fault.
It is actually not Chablis at all, but a category rarely seen in the US denominated "Petit Chablis". It originates on soils that are not the classic "Kimmeridgian clay". In other words, a bit heavier and less differentiated with limestone. It was good, solid, earthy, a bit apple-like in flavor, but not nearly as nuanced as those to follow. $17


DOMAINE LOUIS MOREAU
CHABLIS 2OO5

Also from the freakishly hot 2OO5 vintage, this estate bottled wine is all about the vineyard and comes across a bit shy on the fruit. It's what most tasters would call "bone dry". Appealing, if not quite complete, this is the product of a sixth generation grower, not to be confused with other famous producers bearing the same surname who ply their trade in Chablis as well. Burgundy,
as a whole, is quite inbred and Chablis, especially so. But this wine bears no resemblance to those from the other Moreau businesses I tasted. Its aromatics are earthy and a touch herbal, with some mushroomy qualities. On the palate it is a bit cutting, not excessively ripe at all. In fact, it's just the opposite, quite blunt in style. There is good length on the finish. This is for lovers of uncompromisingly steely, somewhat aggressive Chablis with a decided citric edge. $22


SIMMONET-FEBVRE
CHABLIS 2OO4

This wine is straightforwardly lemony in aroma and flavor, which to me is high praise. It has a faint vegetal edge, a suggestion of apples, and on the palate comes across as quite tart. Clean, direct and pure, it has a lingering somewhat weighty presence on the palate, with very fresh acidity. I am an unabashed fan of the 2OO4 vintage for white Burgundy, particularly Chablis. To me the wines are much more satisfying, with better structure, than the more brilliantly ripe 2OO5's.
This is a minority opinion. A wine like this shows what is admirable about the cooler 2OO4 harvest: &endash; understatement, purity, intensity. A wine to wake up sleepy palates. $1O


JOSEPH DROUHIN
CHABLIS 2OO5

A renowned Burgundy producer with an especially strong presence in Chablis, Drouhin's wine is enticing with its citric, apple, earthy aromas and bright acidity. Perky and tart, this is not a terribly subtle Chablis, but one that is absolutely correct, with penetrating green apple fruit flavors. Despite being from the 2OO5 vintage, it will not disappoint you as an introduction to the classic style. Light to medium bodied, with lingering mineral accents, this is a wine for broiled scallops or lightly seasoned shrimp.
$18


CHRISTIAN MOREAU
CHABLIS 2OO5

This is also an estate bottled wine. A cut above all of the previous entries, it has a subtle minerality on the nose, with lemon and floral essences balancing out the earth scents. On the palate the wine is smooth and creamy, with low key but persistent fruit intensity. Layered and precise in flavor, this Chablis is the only one in my tastings that scored well despite showing traces of wood influence. Here the oak serves as an understated sidelight rather than a dominant influence. Traditional Chablis, balancing soft texture and lingering mineral flint notes on the finish, this would be a great shellfish wine.
$25


DOMAINE VOCORET
CHABLIS 2OO5

This is really exciting, a wine with a full blown lemony, green apple, sweet herb perfume. Fresh and delicate, but also dramatically tart and piercing on the palate, this estate bottled bottling is all about balance. It had the highest level of unapologetic acidity among all the wines I tasted yet there was something also gentle on the palate. Inspiring in its purity and flavor persistence, this Chablis may be bracing on the palate but is all about balance. Fish with some influence of capers is a great choice to match it.
$22


LOUIS JADOT
CHABLIS 2OO4

Isn't it terrible when the most expensive wine turns out to be the best? It sort
of shakes your faith in blind tastings. Although, to be fair, while this amounted to my favorite choice, it was not the consensus pick of all tasters. What I liked about it was its impeccable proportions, no hair out of place. It had an extra dimension of mineral flavor as well, with a salty, mouthwateringly lemony tang lasting well into the finish. Having followed the renowned house of Jadot for a long time, it came as a surprise to me that they even made Chablis, as I had never encountered it before. New to the American market, this wine is aged in barrique, although you might never suspect it from the palate. Complete, tart and lingering, you can recommend this with grilled fish, as well as the more natural lighter seafood preparations. $25

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